Safe School Plans Begin with Information Gathering

School Safety by PAM RILEY and JOANNE McDANIEL

Events on school campuses in recent months have placed a spotlight on the safety and security of schools. Being aware that potential acts of violence might occur on any school campus is the first step that school administrators must take in their efforts to make their schools safer. Failing to acknowledge that such acts might occur at any time and in spite of concerted efforts to prevent them is no longer acceptable.

School administrators must be proactive to prevent incidents of school violence. You must maintain a high level of awareness that the potential of an incident occurring exists every day. Such awareness grounded in information is of the most value to educators, and there are several steps administrators can take to create such information-based awareness.

Ongoing Awareness
These steps involve the four S's of school safety and security: site assessments, statistics, surveys and students.
  • Conduct site assessments.

    Site assessments necessitate reviews of the physical environments of schools to determine if there are any areas where the safety or security of students and staff might be jeopardized. While assessments of campuses need to be done annually, daily attention should be paid to the physical environment throughout the school year.

    Working with law enforcement officials, particularly school resource officers, on site assessment strategies can be extremely valuable. School resource officers are certified law enforcement personnel who follow a community policing policy in a school environment. Law enforcement can help train school staff about what to look for when monitoring their campuses for potential trouble spots, such as access points, inadequate lighting and potential weapons, and can help staff develop strategies for reducing the potential for trouble.

  • Keep statistics and use them in decision making.

    Statistics concerning incidents of disruption and school crime should be maintained so administrators can track the types of problems that are occurring at their schools. With this information, administrators can make decisions about which prevention strategies offer their schools the most promise for solving particular problems. Such information drives resource decisions, as well.

  • Survey the entire school community.

    Surveys of the school community offer additional information. Surveys of students, staff and parents can pinpoint areas of concern and uncover behaviors that might reflect these concerns. It is important that all viewpoints of the school community be reflected in the surveys in order to develop a complete picture of the views of the entire school.

  • Know and involve your students.

    Students themselves need to be involved in establishing and maintaining the safety and security of their own schools. Administrators and entire school staffs need to watch and listen to their students. They need to know who their students are and what their typical patterns of behavior are so that deviations from the norm are noticed and can be addressed. Students themselves are resources whom schools can incorporate into safety and security efforts. Students Against Violence Everywhere chapters empower students to promote nonviolent solutions to problems they might face.

Three Aspects
With relevant information in hand, administrators can develop safe school plans focused on their schools' specific needs. The strategies of these plans should address three dimensions: place, people, purpose.

Place means ensuring the physical environment of a school is safe and secure. People means paying attention to the relationships among people who are part of the school community so daily conflicts can be managed successfully. Purpose means maintaining a focus on the educational purpose of a school. In shoring up safety and security, the intent is not to create prisons of our schools but to maintain safe and secure schools that do not take on the characteristics of prisons.

A resource school administrators throughout the country can turn to for assistance is the Center for the Prevention of School Violence (, a service center of the University of North Carolina system. The center's vision is that students should be able to attend schools that are free of fear and conducive to learning. The center pursues this vision by providing information, program assistance and research.

While no guarantees exist that better awareness of potential problems is enough to prevent tragedies from happening, awareness based on solid information can give administrators the confidence they are doing everything possible to enhance the safety and security of their students and staff.

Pam Riley, a former principal, is executive director of the Center for the Prevention of School Violence, 20 Enterprise St., Suite 2, Raleigh, N.C. 27607-7375. E-mail: Joanne McDaniel is the center's research director